By: Chair Brenda Mallory
It is great to see so many Americans celebrating by taking time to enjoy our nation’s natural wonders, including my family, who recently hiked in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest.
Unfortunately, as we’re celebrating our special places this month, we cannot ignore the harsh reality that climate change is reshaping our lands, rivers, lakes, wetlands, ocean, and coasts. We are witnessing staggering declines in wildlife populations, with species’ habitats being fragmented into smaller and smaller patches. And too many children are growing up with little or no chance to explore and learn from the wonders of nature.
President Biden has issued a call to action to conserve, connect, and restore 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030. At his direction, this Administration is investing critical resources to make this historic conservation goal a reality.
Over the past few months, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has proudly worked in partnership with the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce, including the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, to develop initial recommendations on how to advance President Biden’s inclusive and collaborative conservation vision through an America the Beautiful initiative.
This America the Beautiful initiative centers on a decade-long commitment to support locally led and voluntary conservation efforts of all kinds across the country.
Importantly, the America the Beautiful initiative outlines a core set of principles that will guide the Biden-Harris Administration’s approach to our land, water, and wildlife stewardship efforts. These principles include collaborative and inclusive conservation efforts, conserving America’s lands and waters for the benefit of all people, honoring the sovereignty of Tribal Nations, respecting private property rights, pursuing conservation and restoration activities that create jobs and support healthy communities, and using science as a guide.
We know that conservation works best when it occurs in partnership. CEQ is continuing to undertake broad stakeholder engagement, including working with agricultural and forest landowners, fishers, outdoor enthusiasts, Tribal Nations, states, territories, local officials, and other important partners to identify strategies that reflect the priorities of every community.
In addition to these efforts, this month the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture announced $2.8 billion in projects, grants and programs authorized in the Great American Outdoors Act to support economies, outdoor recreation, and access to these public lands. These investments will play a key role in advancing the America the Beautiful initiative.
This includes investments for the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund (LRF), which provides funding for priority projects that address the maintenance backlog at national parks, national wildlife refuges, recreation areas, national forests, grasslands, and Bureau of Indian Education schools. The Great American Outdoors Act also provided permanent, full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually to secure public access and improve recreational opportunities on public lands, protect watersheds and wildlife, and preserve ecosystem benefits for local communities.
This is the first of many steps toward reaching President Biden’s bold conservation goal, but we must also take stock of where we stand right now, including by assessing how much of America’s land and ocean are currently conserved. Over the coming months, an interagency working group will create an American Conservation and Stewardship Atlas, which will compile baseline information about how much land and water are currently conserved and restored in the U.S. This new tool will help track progress toward our national conservation goal over the next decade. Although numbers alone won’t tell the story of what we will gain by a renewed commitment to the stewardship of nature in America, this Atlas is a necessary tool to protect our most sacred places for generations to come.
Throughout the pandemic, we have been reminded that nature’s most important benefits are often immeasurable, and that America’s outdoor spaces are more than just travel destinations. They bring nature into the communities where people live, serving as refuges to take in fresh air, escape urban heat, and unwind in a safe space. Those benefits should not only be available to the fortunate few—but to everyone. Yet, so many Americans, especially in low-income communities and communities of color, are without meaningful access to nature. That’s why I am eager to work in partnership with organizations that are already on the ground working to measure and increase access to green space, in order to expand nature’s reach in a just and equitable way for all.
As we collectively spend time outside this Great Outdoors Month and National Ocean Month, join me in rededicating ourselves to conserve and restore the lands and waters upon which we all depend. These are the places and experiences that the America the Beautiful initiative will work to safeguard for the benefit of every person in America, so that we leave our country better, stronger, and healthier for generations to come.
You can read more about the America the Beautiful initiative here.